The start of a new school year offers so much wonder, excitement and promise. As teachers, it also allows each of us a time to reexamine what we teach and how we teach it. This gives us a chance to celebrate our students’ successes and meaningful experiences, as well as decide on facets of our teaching on which we wish to improve. It may be that we want to find a new tone piece for our fall concert, a new technique for teaching intonation, or a new grading rubric. It may be that we want to be a more assertive advocate for our program, a better communicator with parents and administrators, or find more multicultural opportunities for our classrooms.
For me, it seems that each passing year I return to one thought: the difference between teaching and learning. In short, did I simply teach my students what I wanted them to learn or did my students learn what I wanted them to learn? It may seem like an odd semantic game, but it really is a profound question. I can’t tell you the number of times I was sure I successfully taught my students something, that upon evaluation and application of the concept I realized I really hadn’t.
My students looked and acted like they understood, they said they understood, and they looked confident, but when I gave them an exam or asked them to use the concept in a new application, they really didn’t understand at all. On those occasions, I realize I taught the concept the way I wanted to teach it, but not the way they needed to learn it. It could have been an issue of planning or material, pacing or sequencing, but whatever it was it just didn’t work. Can we avoid this happening? I think with work we can minimize those occasions, but most important, it points to the need for evaluation, application and transfer of training to test our teaching as much as our students’ learning.